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My Last Empress: A Novel Hardcover – October 2, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307381307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307381309
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,353,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Nabokov meets Dream of the Red Chamber. . . A lyrical tale of crossed borders, boundaries and destinies, expertly told.” –Kirkus, starred review
“A wonderful tale of passionate obsession…the prose is elegantly inviting.” –Library Journal

“The best romance stories are always the most fearless…Sweeps you away with visions of a bygone age of royal extravagance…Fans of sweeping historical romance like Gone with the Wind and Ian McEwan’s Atonement, as well as fans of transgressive sexual explorations like Nabokov’s Lolita, will find another engrossing story in My Last Empress. It’s both moving and frightening, dark and hopeful, gut-wrenching and inspiring. Chen has delivered another powerful work in an already stellar career.” —Bookpage

“Chen’s lyrical prose enhances and deepens the eerie tone of this atmospheric melodrama.” —Booklist

“Steeped in the language and colors of an Asia long gone… Chen’s…19th-century tale of obsession explores the line between love and madness.” —Publishers Weekly

"In My Last Empress, Da Chen pushes the reader into the strangest corners of the human heart, with a style of pure creepy gorgeousness. Like a fan opening, vane by mysterious vane." —Janet Fitch, New York Times bestselling author of White Oleander and Paint it Black
Da Chen's My Last Empress is an intoxicating and consistently surprising historical novel that delves into the nature of erotic passion, obsession and phantasmagoric haunting with vivid descriptive flourishes that evoke the courtly life of 19th century imperial China. Set against the backdrop of both New England and China, the narrative masterly interweaves the story of narrator Samuel Pickens going in search of his deceased beloved while stumbling upon the intrigue and mysterious machinations of the Chinese emperor, a world full of eunuchs, warlords, and concubines, replete with loyalty and betrayal. Simultaneously a timeless love story and a dazzling tale of dangerous infatuation, My Last Empress brings the reader along on a sensual and astounding journey of self-discovery and cultural revelation. A truly original novel written by one of our most inspired bicultural writers.” —Ravi Shankar, Pushcart Prize winning poet and Founding Editor of Drunken Boat

"If you took the love child of J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald, then raised him in China, you would get something close to the beauty, truth, and elegance of the words of Da Chen in My Last Empress." — John Buffalo Mailer, author of Hello Herman and The Big Empty
Da Chen has followed Nabokov's dictum to caress the detail beautifully, with a calligraphic touch, to create an enchanting tale and a picaro journey through the vanities of the American upper classes with many surprising twists, humor, eros, and profound psychological insights.” — Josip Novakovich, American Book Award and Whiting Award winning author of April Fool's Day

About the Author

DA CHEN grew up in China and graduated from Columbia University Law School. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. Brothers, Da Chen's acclaimed first work of fiction, made the 2006 best book lists at the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Miami Herald, and Publishers Weekly. Other books include the New York Times bestselling memoir Colors of the Mountain, Sounds of the River, Wandering Warrior and China's Son.

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Customer Reviews

There are no likable characters.
Joel B. Kirk
On the other hand, the biracial Qiu Rong comes off as spoiled, rash....even though she is 13, but written to talk and act like someone twice her age.
Passionate Reader
I did enjoy a bit of the travels and stories but not the sex stuff.
Tonya Speelman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Melissa McCauley VINE VOICE on August 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I always find it hard to read books with a protagonist I don't particularly like. Samuel Pickens is perverted and obsessed with Anabelle, who seems more like a homage to the literary nymphets who have gone before her than a real person. Of course, the story is told in first person by Samuel himself, who is molesting mannequins while fantasizing about Annabelle's ghost - like Humbert Humbert's Dolores she is not a real person to him.

Snark Alert: I kept feeling like I had read this book before, right down to all the butterfly allusions. It seemed like the real story was about the rise and fall of Samuel's penis. (oh dear, I hate puns)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By fredtownward VINE VOICE on June 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When reading this mess of a book, which I don't recommend by the way, it helps to think of it as three separate books, sequentially chronicling the life of our putative "hero" Samuel Pickens, but differing greatly in writing style.

The first book, lasting until Pickens takes up his position as tutor of the emperor of China, is pure farce, tragicomic farce to be sure (I counted at least five dead and three maimed, including one death by butterflies), but so ludicrously over the top that the only appropriate response to it is laughter,... if you can bring yourself to laugh at such things. After first being seduced out of his virginity at Phillips Andover prep school by a 19th Century Mrs. Robinson (and suffering the tortures of the damned after being told she was pregnant until the dolt finally realizes that Mrs. D had been with virtually every other male on campus), Pickens meets and falls head over heels in love/lust with the woman who will haunt his waking hours and his dreams for the rest of his life: the Chinese born and raised daughter of missionaries, Annabelle Hawthorne. She returns his affections, but this is 1891, so a lot more sneaking around is required. On the night they planned to consummate their relationship between a couple of haystacks on campus, at the very moment in fact, Annabelle's opium pipe sets the hay on fire, incinerating her and leaving Pickens bereft and blue balled.

He responds by going insane, but this is a literary, not a clinical madness.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Joel B. Kirk on February 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I read an article somewhere online that talked about how some books that are spawned from MFA Creative Writing programs have a distinctive way of coming across; and I've noticed this after reading Da Chen's "My Last Empress." (Note: Author Da Chen is a Creative Writing professor; and I recall reading a book by an MFA student, with a similar style to Chen's, called "Troublemaker and Other Saints"). There are no characters to root for, no plot to speak of, no stakes for the main characters, no obstacles. And, while I realize there are some shades of Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita," my knowledge mainly come from the film adaptations rather than the novel, so I cannot make direct comparisons between Nabokov and Chen's books.

The story is as follows: The setting is late 19th/early 20th century, and Samuel Pickens is a Caucasian man from America, possibly middle-class or slightly above, who seems to have connections (family or "friends") who get him out of scraps that may be scandalous in a legal/moral sense, or get him into academic places that other individuals may have big difficulty getting into. His obsession is a girl named Annabelle, who, from my understanding grew up in Asia...and winds up going back there. Pickens just so happens gets a job as a tutor for the Chinese prince, which allows Pickens to go looking for her. It turns out that he falls for a 13 year old half-Asian (blonde hair, blue-eyed, but with almond-shaped eyes) who looks like Annabelle, save for the eyes...that show her Asian heritage, and very much says that this 13 year old - named Qiu Rong - has an Asian father. Pickens and Qiu Rong wind up having a sexual relationship under the nose of the prince, whom somehow is oblivious to it all.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Peter G. Keen VINE VOICE on October 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I found this bizarre and nasty. It is packed with sexual malice, full of images of castration, blood, humiliation, sado-everything plus pyro-eroticism. The writing shifts between a mannered sort of orotundity to an untidy colloquialism. Representative samples: "I felt the warmth of her hand hungering over my sword. Silky stockings ripped and I plowed blindly into the mud of her." How many metaphors can be mixed in just two sentences?) "Her assertiveness with certain positional demands and familiarity with all her vital organs and mine alike..." "A palace girl was knocked up by the emperor once. It should have been a joyful occasion, but her nipples were cut off, and the infant gouged from her womb..." Then moving from the nasty to the banal: "See?" Grandpa uttered with annoyance. "There you go again with your foreign tongue when I'm not done talking."

I looked for aspects of the book which would make it worth reading despite its repellent style, story and characters. I didn't find any. It lacks evocation of the Imperial Palace. The characters are inert.
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